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Driver Lifestyles

Ready to Become an Expedite Owner-Operator?

By Sean M. Lyden - Staff Writer
Posted Sep 14th 2015 4:02PM

Here's how one husband and wife team arrived at that decision.

When Tom and Tina Evans stepped out on their own as expedite owner-operators in 2001, they were looking for a business that would give them complete control over their financial future.

Both husband and wife were in retail management positions -- Tom worked for a local family-owned furniture; Tina managed a shoe department at a local K-Mart. But, at that time, they both felt their jobs were at risk of layoffs and wanted to pursue another career before the worst case scenario could happen.

"The Internet and the big-box furniture retailers were hurting the local furniture business, and there had been discussions about shutting down the store in our town. And the K-Marts were having troubles of their own. So, I think we were both worried about being out of a job, without having another job lined up."

Tom and Tina didn't wait for layoffs to happen. Instead, they decided to be their own boss as expedite owner-operators.

"Since we had both been in management, we really didn't want to have to get into something where we would have to answer to somebody," says Tom.

They were exposed to the opportunities in trucking through Tina's brother and sister-in-law, who, at the time, were truckload owner-operators.

Learning About the Trucking Business

"My brother helped guide us a little bit with the things we would need to look out for," says Tina. "And by learning about their big truck business model, we were able to determine about how much we could make with a straight truck in expediting. We deciding to take that 'leap of faith,' knowing that [being an owner-operator] was something that Tom and I could succeed at and spend the time together."

With the various types of opportunities in trucking, why did Tom and Tina choose expediting?

"Vehicle size was the biggest reason," says Tom. "I had some experience with tractor trailers prior to this, and I knew I didn't care for them. The smaller straight truck looked pretty attractive, especially from a financial perspective, so we knew from the get-go that expediting was what we were going to do."

Before they made the leap, did they feel financially prepared to succeed as owner-operators?

Before Taking the Plunge

Attracted to the idea of becoming your own boss but not sure if you have what it takes to make it as an owner-operator? Here are 7 specific steps you can start taking today to position yourself for expedite success.

  1. Become a diligent student of the expedite business by attending the annual Expedite Expo, subscribing to ExpediteNOW magazine, and tapping into a vast library of articles and resources on ExpeditersOnline.com.
  2. Seek out successful expediters who would be willing to serve as mentors, providing real-world perspective on the opportunities and potential pitfalls that come with the expedite business.
  3. Bolster your credit rating to keep your interest costs as low as possible.
  4. Reduce your monthly household expenses wherever possible.
  5. Run the numbers based on a realistic projection of your income and expenses to assess whether expedite trucking would be a viable business model for you and your family.
  6. Become excellent at managing your money.
  7. If necessary, "test drive" the expedite business by first becoming a driver for a fleet owner.

Planning for Success

"Kind of yes, kind of no," says Tom. "We had a little bit of savings. And Tina was going to still have her job at K-Mart for the short term. Our plan was that I would drive solo for about a year until our kids graduated high school and headed to college. Then Tina was going to quit her job and join me. So, early on, we still had her income coming in to support the household bills. Basically all we were expecting out of the truck at that time was to supplement our income a little bit and have it pay its own way with me as a solo driver."

How did they know they were ready to take the step?

"We relied heavily on Tina's brother and his wife as we made our decision," says Tom. "We figured that if they could make what they were earning per mile on a big truck with the kind of expenses they had, we were pretty confident, that with our lower expenses, we could succeed at this."

The key to that confidence was Tom and Tina's relatively low household expenses and debt, which helped ensure they weren't getting in over their heads. "We've never been in a lot of debt and our monthly expenses were extremely minimal on our end. So, we were pretty comfortable in satisfying ourselves that if Tina's brother and his wife could do it, we could do it too," says Tom.

The decision has paid off. Fast-forward fourteen years later, and the Evans are not only successful owner-operators, but they are now fleet owners, with a total of four trucks.

Real-World Advice

What advice do Tom and Tina typically share with those who are considering whether they're ready to take that next step as an expedite owner-operator?

"We start by being extremely realistic, and hopefully they are honest with us when we ask them about their finances at home," says Tom. " Do they manage money well? If they are fairly well off in their finances as far as not owing a lot of money and their household monthly expenses are at a very low level to survive when they're starting out as owner-operators, then they stand a good chance to succeed."

If your expenses and debt obligations are high, Tom and Tina recommends holding off on becoming an owner and try out the business as a driver first.

"If their finances at home are such that they would be under a lot of pressure per month to pay all the bills, we'll likely tell them, 'You should find somebody to work for, try this out and see how the income works for you as a driver,'" says Tom.

"If we realize that they don't sound like they would be a good fit [as an owner] and know right from the get-go that they are going to fail, we'll just come right out and tell them — we don't think this is a good business model for you," says Tina.

While there are a number of intangible traits you need to succeed as an owner-operator -- such as self-discipline, professionalism, and a positive attitude -- Tom and Tina point to money management as the single most important skill that will determine your success.

"You can come into this business and not know the first thing about trucking in general, but you can learn as you go and do very well in expediting -- if you're good with money," says Tina. "You really have to know how to manage money and your costs. Just because a truck makes X amount of money doesn't mean that you will make that amount of money."

Another important piece of advice: Find mentors. As Tom puts it, "If you can model yourself after someone who is successful in expediting, chances are you can be successful as well."

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